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A CurtainUp New Jersey Review

"I live in international domestic bliss. "— Bernard

Matt Walton and Beth Leavel
(Photo: T. Charles Erickson)
If the curtain rises and you see at least five doors in a room, you may as well begin to smile if you are not quite ready to laugh out loud. And that is how one is likely to react at the beginning of Boeing-Boeing. The number of doors in a set is often a clue that there is a farce a-foot.

There was a time mostly during the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s when the audience at the Paper Mill Playhouse could depend upon a farce or two to rule the stage during the winter months. These often came from the British and French school of contemporary high comedy with a particular affection for the (loose) canon of Britisher Ray Cooney (Run For Your Wife, It Runs in the Family, Out of Order etc. ).

Thank goodness the Playhouse’s audiences adored those innocently sexy, chaos-filled, slap-stick but never slap-dash farces more than did the traditional (sophisticated???) Broadway audiences. So with no apology, the Playhouse is currently reminding their audience that a bit of hilarious (if not especially hot) hanky panky is the perfect solution to the winter doldrums.

This British adaptation by Beverly Cross and Francis Evens of Marc Camoletti’s 1962 French comedy is well served by this production under the fast and furious direction of James Brennan. It makes it own case for generating laughs even though it does take a while for the audience to warm up to what is essentially a forced and ridiculous situation comedy. Although it was huge hit in Paris (a run of 19 years) and London (7 years), it was a 23 performance flop when it was originally carted over to Broadway in 1965. A nifty revival of Boeing-Boeing landed successfully on Broadway in 2008. (the 2008 review).

Whether some of you have fond memories (or not) of the 1965 film version that was packaged around the talents of Jerry Lewis and Tony Curtis or more likely (or not) of the recent Broadway revival with Mark Rylance, Bradley Whitford, and Christine Baranski, Boeing-Boeing is not the kind of theater requiring one needs to ponder its merits.

What matters is that Brennan, who is more renowned for his musical theater credits than drama, may be commended for applying what he knows to keep this totally inane and conspicuously dated comedy flying high at all cost. Consider the possibilities as Bernard (Matt Walton), a Paris-based architect, who has an arrangement with someone at Orly Airport who supplies him with names and schedules so that he can have multiple affairs with the hottest airline hostesses. His main job, however, is to keep track of all the airline arrivals and departures. This is essential to keep his three current “fiancées” from bumping into each other.

Things begin to go awry when Robert (John Scherer) Bernard’s old school mate from Wisconsin shows up for an unexpected visit. As the airline schedules are abruptly changed, Robert becomes unwittingly and even romantically involved in the ensuing chaos most of which has to do with keeping Robert’s three fiancées apart…meaning more fast and furious entrances and exits through the various doors than you can keep up with.

The aggressively sexy, food-consuming Gloria (Heather Parcells) is courtesy of TWA. Al-Italia’s gift is the torrid and tempestuous Gabriella (Brynn O’Malley). Compliments of Lufthansa, blonde and battle-ready Gretchen (Anne Horak) comes equipped with everything but a whip. Abetting Bernard in his masterfully engineered romantic deceptions is Berthe (played with ballsy bravado by Beth Leavel), the disapproving French maid, whose ever decreasing patience is exacerbated by having to comply with the culinary taste of each fiancée.

The acting by all is appropriately, unapologetically and apoplectically over the top. Walton, who is making his Paper Mill Playhouse debut makes a point in his bio of naming all the TV shows he’s been in that have been cancelled. He displays a real flair for making faces that reflect his growing desperation as the over extended Romeo. Scherer, who has appeared in many of the Paper Mill’s musical revivals and last appeared on Broadway in Lovemusik, builds upon his character’s nerdy qualities to reach a point of comedic dominance that is a pleasure to watch.

It’s a full frontal attack on the French as well as on every French maid who has ever suffered through the indignities of a farce by Leavel. The winner of a Tony, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle Award winner, she was last seen on Broadway as Florence Greenberg in Baby It’s You!. From her first appearance, she makes it quite clear that she has no qualms about decimating a French accent, accentuating every larger-than-life movement, and eliminating anything that could be construed as a subtlety in a performance that redefines the expression chewing the scenery. In other words, you will laugh at her in spite of her inexcusable insistence on up-staging the other actors (blame the director for this), and because she knows we are helplessly inclined to eat it up.

Considering that every little movement in this comedy is deployed for its visual effect, we can admit that the three hostesses in and out of their uniforms (flashily designed by Brian Hemesath) are just what could make going through security these days worth the effort. But let’s give it up for the 1960s when flying was not a farce and for a comedy from an era that paid more attention to a soubrette than to a subtext.

By Marc Camoletti (Translated by Beverley Cross & Francis Evans 
Directed by James Brennan

Cast: Heather Parcells (Gloria), Matt Walton (Bernard), Beth Leavel (Berthe), John Scherer (Robert), Brynn O’Malley (Gabriella), Anne Horak (Gretchen)  
Scenic Design: Ray Klausen 
Costume Design: Brian Hemesath 
Lighting Design: F. Mitchell Dana 
Sound Design: Randy Hansen 
Running time: 2 hours including intermission 
Paper Mill Playhouse, 22 Brookside Drive, Millburn, N.J.  
(973) 376 – 4343 
Tickets: ($25.00 - $80.00)  
Performances: Wednesdays at 7 PM; Thursdays at 1:30 and 7:30 PM; Fridays at 8 PM; Saturdays at 1:30 and 8 PM; Sundays at 1:30 and 7 PM.  
From: 01/18/12 
Opening: 01/22/12 
Closing: 02/12/12 
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 01/22/12 CCCCCC">
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